Blogging letters to the editor — Brilliant!

The Greensboro News & Record’s involvement in the furtherance of citizens media in that community took another step forward this weekend when the paper made its “Letters To The Editor” section available in a blog format online. This is, frankly, brilliant. Published letters from readers have long been the only form of citizen participation in the mainstream news biz, and the paper is very, very smart to make them available as blog elements — with comment sections available. Talk about a great way to elevate citizens media!

We’re adding this feature for two reasons. First, the blog format will enable readers to discuss and comment on each individual letter. Second, it will enable bloggers and other online writers to link directly to an individual letter, rather than just to a Web page containing multiple letters.

We hope this change will make the online version of our printed letters to the editor more useful as reference material and as topics for public discussion.

The Greensboro News & Record is blazing a trail that all newspapers will soon be following. This will dramatically impact TV stations in markets where this is taking place, and I hope my contemporaries are paying attention.

Comments

  1. This week I entered the realm of podcasting, and I talked to one of my fellow graduate students on the podcast about the lack of creativity and innovation in newspapers. On the other hand, we also identified the danger of chasing whatever the latest fad is without having some assurance that it will pan out. There’s a need for balancing innovation with conservatism. As a consultant, what is your advice to clients about striking this balance? Overall, how do you think the media could do a better job of finding this balance? I don’t really have good answers to these questions, which is why I pose them to you. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Brendan,

    This is a tough nut for institutional anything these days, because I’m not convinced that "balance" is what’s required. In the case of media, the evidence is so overwhelming that caution can be a significant net liability if it turns into waiting and seeing. Since my specialty is local media, I think the monster creeping up behind is this: there’s only room for one entity per market to get it right in the new media landscape. You’d better be that one, and that means moving quickly.

    Waiting until somebody else in your market gets it right means you’ve lost your chance. In that sense, "balance" is a problem.

    On the other hand, these institutions still need to make money, so abandoning bread and butter for Atkins is foolish and unnecessary. The problem here is that media people seem unable to function as entrepreneurs in building new media solutions, so they’re always looking within to solve a problem that’s "out there." I tell my clients that it’s not an either/or situation and that the real secret is using your existing core competency to drive new media. That’s my idea of true balance.

    Terry

  3. Terry,

    If the new media landscape holds as many channels of video and audio as there are webpages, and giants like Yahoo and Google, and Amazon can offer us local information, entertainment, media, and advertising, what is it that the surviving local media does? It’s got to be something that Yahoo and Google won’t be able to offer over IP. Perhaps it has to be something physical, something hands on. Like education. Like connecting people. Like The Greensboro News and Record’s Letters to the Editor blog- giving us the public a forum infinitely larger than what we have been limited to.

    Perhaps the local media business is becoming a local media services business- helping city hall document meetings for concerned citizens, helping kids document the history of their towns, and providing a way for older resident to communicate with distant relatives.

    Just as we once turned to TV and dailies to hear and read the news- we will now turn to these businesses to help us share and find the news. The journalist (and media organization) of tomorrow will thrive on stories that invite and require participation; and the media technology infrastructure that supports today’s broadcast one-to-many model will be the local hub for a citizenry that forgets the difference between consuming and producing.

  4. Terry,

    Glad you picked this up. But, before John Robinson smacks the back of your hand the way he did an AP reporter recently, it’s the News & Record.

    Just trying to save you from John’s red pen, as it were.

    Mark

  5. Yikes, Mark! Thanks. I fixed it.

    Eli, I happen to believe that local information is best managed at the local level. Entrepreneurs have been slow on the take on this, preferring to create big companies that try to do all communities at once (citysearch). I’ve got clients involved in this, and I think it’s just the beginning. You’ll see local business models for the Amazons, eBays and Googles of the world.

    I do agree that hyper-local is the way to go for local media — all inclusive and easily accessible information. It’s going to be an interesting decade ahead (hell, they ALL are).

  6. I agree with much of what you say, but what leads you to this particular conclusion?:

    "Since my specialty is local media, I think the monster creeping up behind is this: there’s only room for one entity per market to get it right in the new media landscape."

    Isn’t one of the great things about the web is that there can be multiple websites out there serving different niche interests in the community? Or is it possible for two entities to co-exist? In Greensboro you have the News and Record and Greensboro101, an active blog aggregator and blog community. Both seem to be thriving (though I haven’t followed either as closely as I should.)

    I don’t rely on one outlet a day for my online information, even locally. In Columbia, MO a small community by many standards, I visit 3-5 websites a day for various types of information. Though I am atypical in my media consumption, I assume that there are enough people out there at least relying on at least a couple of websites to support a couple of players in the new media market.

    This, however, is just my hunch.

  7. While it’s true that the nature of the Web is to produce many voices, the ugly reality is that it doesn’t produce many viable business models. The numbers don’t work, no matter how you tweak them.

    I realize that makes me sound like a naysayer, which I’m really not. But when the potential revenue pie is sliced so thin, it makes no sense to get all excited about moving IRL to URL.

    This is why I say there’s really only room for one to get it right. Many others will be there, but most won’t make money. And where do we go after that?

  8. Brendan, it occurred to me last night that perhaps a stumbling block in understanding what I’m trying to say is my use of the term "do it right." By that, I mean an expanding business model that includes other online revenue streams. I can’t go beyond that without giving away strategic initiatives that I have underway.

  9. Thanks for your insight, and best of luck with your project. It’s exciting to see a lot of great minds innovating online and though you obviously don’t want to tip your hand, I appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues and respond to comments on your blog.

    I have to say, though, that with all the developments happening on the web these days, I do think that it may be possible for multiple local sites to exist and make money in a single market. One reason that I say this is because I think some of the advertising models discussed by Backfence.com and others could bring in advertisers that haven’t traditionally advertised much. We simply haven’t seen enough of what is possible to excclude any possibilities (at least, I don’t think so, but I don’t have your business savvy).

    I think smaller advertisers could support a citizen media website via low-cost, high-volume, do-it-yourself advertising, for example, while more traditional advertisers support a larger site. You’re also right, though, that there is a need for multiple revenue streams, and to that end me need much more creativity and innovation in online advertising from media companies. We need to get away from the annoying model of annoying ads that detract from content and produce advertising that actually adds to the content of the website.

    Otherwise, the media is going to lose out to technology companies who will not only figure out more successful business models but will figure out ways to produce the editorial content to go along with it.

  10. Again, I’m not saying multiple sites won’t make money. I’m saying that the smart media company in a market will make serious money by owning all or most of them. There’s only room for one of those.

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